c.e. taillefer

September 30, 2016

Get your mind into the gutter: Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics

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If you’re into comics even the least little bit, chances are good the name Scott McCloud has crossed your radar. He’s better known for his comics about comics rather than the franchises he’s worked on, and for good reason – Understanding Comics is something I’d consider required reading for anyone working in a creative field.

Of particular interest to me is the concept of the “gutter” – the liminal space in comics (and arguably, in writing and games as well, and films and TV to a lesser extent) where the reader supplies the details of events between panels/sentences/scenes.

"Now you die!"

“I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I’m not the one who let it drop, or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why. That, dear reader, was your special crime, each of you committing it in your own style.”

This focus on reader participation in Understanding Comics began to highlight the ways in which I exploit similar stylistic choices in my chosen mediums of short and novel-length fiction, and games.  For example, from “Haven of the Waveless Sea”, where Fandral Staghelm relives the death of his son:

   “Again.”
       The meaty rip, the buzzing song, the sound of hope dying.
In fact, once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing how often I used a similar “fade to black” style – as a cover for my own inexperience with elves being torn-apart by giant insect lords, or to give reuniting characters some privacy, a la William Goldman but also to poke fun at the reader’s own sense of imagination. All it takes is the narrator stating, “you can imagine the rest” after the beginning of a gory or erotic scene to get the readers actually thinking about it. (Don’t think of the pink elephant!) It’s a great way to pretend you’re a better writer than you are, since the readers are going to imagine whatever suits them best. It’s also one of the reasons why, a friend pointed out, that good tweets work so well as comic strips: they both make effective use to of the gutter to be funny or scary or poignant.
On the other hand, like any stylistic choice, it can be too often relied on.  One of the storytelling experiments I hope to use in my current Twine project is to write the whole story, regardless of how nonsensical or unreal it may seem, to get at the heart of a personal experience through the nitty gritty details. If the goal of a game is to promote both empathy and the sense of helplessness inherent in being trapped in an abusive relationship, going through the painful details with a fine tooth comb seems to be far more effective than letting the reader imagine for themselves, particularly if the project’s intent is to break down stereotypical media portrayals of abusive relationships.
In particular, I’m thinking of the ending of Watchmen by Alan Moore.  How much of a double gut punch is it for Ozymandias to admit his plan was already completed before the heroes ever arrived to stop him, and then to show, in explicit, bloody detail, what that plan entailed?  Moore’s goal was to play on tropes and stereotypes of superhero comics, and it’s effective both in thumbing its nose at the big Villain monologue (quite literally, Adrian says “I’m not some republic serial villain”!) and the amount of destruction that many superheroes cause in the process of saving the world. (Age of Ultron/Civil War in the Marvel cinematic universe tries this also, to lukewarm effect.) Moore’s got an explicit vision to sell in Watchmen, and sets it up via the non-linear transitions, where the reader can partake in their own version of Adrian’s plan before being exposed to the reality.
May 27, 2014

Yes, Virginia, There Is Misogyny (and It Kills Women)

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A brief thought exercise for media and people ignoring the fact that UCSB shooter was driven to kill by his hatred of and sense of entitlement towards women (all text taken from the posted manifesto on Scribd; h/t to wehuntedthemammoth for highlighting some of the quotes I used below).  Needless as it may be to say, trigger warning for graphic hatred of women and depictions of violence against them:

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April 6, 2014

In a Relationship with: Game of Thrones – Status: it’s Complicated

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Valar morghulis, errybody.  It’s hard for me to decide what I appreciate more: “all men must die” serving as a tagline, or the new iconic crow image that’s going to be hundreds of tattoos in no time:

Image

why not both?

Spoilers for seasons 1-3 and books 1-3 below the cut!

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December 12, 2013

An Island Never Cries: The Enlightenment, Feminism and Loneliness

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I’ve been mulling over this idea for a while now, ever since a coworker posted an article about being a “feminist killjoy” (guilty!) and my general sense of consternation and disappointment in feminist communities. In the past I’ve jokingly said I can focus on more than one thing wrong with sexism at once, but lately I’ve been feeling stretched out in too many directions, wondering where all the disconnects came from and what happened to genuine community.

There are many good reasons for a lack of solidarity and community within feminism.  Trans women are understandably leery of the movement since TERFs poisoned the well with their dangerous rhetoric.  Women of colour have often been excluded from, if not experienced downright hostility by, white feminism.  (See the #solidarityisforwhitewomen tweets that @karnythia got rolling late this summer.)  To many women, feminism has always been synonymous with white, middle class cis women.

I can’t remember a time where I didn’t personally identify as feminist.  It’s possible part of it stemmed from the fact that I was (and still am) a contrary asshole, and I was surrounded by sexism, so rebelling against that became important to me.  A lot of my fledgling feelings about women’s rights were crystallized through stuff like volunteering with Scarleteen in my young adult life.

But then in college, I remember picking up a feminist theology book, either edited or written by Mary Daly, and reading it in the tub one night after class.  Before the water had even stopped steaming, I had to put it down, confused.  Not only did it seem intellectually dishonest – reading aspects of modern feminism back into first century Palestine to the point of speculating the magi visiting baby Jesus might have actually been witches – but it was patently wrong in its examinations of gender and sexuality.  (Mary Daly was quite well known for her vicious transphobia, as I later learned.)  I didn’t like the idea of that being what people thought of when I said I was a feminist, and a theologian.  Was Jesus a feminist? No! Would he be a feminist, if he lived today? Probably (or something similar.)  For me, believing and studying the gospel made me feel that social justice is the only acceptable solution; not that social justice should be read backwards in order to rearrange the gospel to suit us.

I began to read more widely and found some really excellent stuff (Jess (Yee) Danforth’s Feminism for Real, for example, and Lauren Chief Elk, who’s currently getting well-deserved accolades for her letter to Eve Ensler). I also found a lot of feminist stuff that made me deeply uncomfortable – male feminist “allies” getting far more air time than the women who said it better before them; a trend towards making feminism fun, sexy and palatable; feminist narratives around choice that implied that… well, Lisa Simpson says it pretty good:

No, no, I was talking about “As a feminist, virtually anything a woman does is empowering.”

Now, I’m pretty sure that the line in the Simpsons is meant to be a rib at exactly that kind of thinking.  Lisa Simpson, while totally amazing, is also only eight years old and she’s a great avatar therefore for subtly jabbing at misguided ideals.  My biggest and most growing uncertainty about my role within feminism as a community lately has been centred mostly around issues of choice and individualism.

It’s important to remember that, historically speaking, concepts of individuality are relatively young.  The Enlightenment was only a few hundred years ago, after all.  It hasn’t been all bad; concepts of individual human rights isn’t something I’m ready to chuck out.  For certain issues – like reproductive choice – the individual is the only person that matters. That’s the kind of thing, in my mind, “your freedom to do whatever you want ends where my body begins” as an ideal was meant for.

Now, forgive me, because this part is ticklish.  But I’m finding myself more and more concerned with certain aspects of feminism where the individual choice is held paramount and therefore, because the individual is a feminist, the choices are therefore also feminist.

Last year, I had the honour of attending the Faculty of Celebrity Studies hosted by Elaine Lui. You can read the whole experience on my post about it, but a lot of the discourse from the audience was about how they had chosen to become stay at home moms, and how mean feminists were for criticizing their choices, and blah blah blah until I got all Mount St Helen and caused a scene.

Look, it should be obvious: can you be a stay at home mom, and a feminist? YES.  Is being a stay at home mom a feminist choice? Well, for one – how do you define what a feminist choice is?  But more importantly, is it even a choice, when it’s typically more practical for a two-income family that a woman stay at home because she earns less? Or that even today, we’re still primarily bombarded with messages of motherhood being the ultimate fulfilment of being a woman?  (Having done some Christmas shopping for my niece recently, with massive difficulties in even finding gifts that weren’t kitchen or baby-doll related, I’d argue it’s even worse than when I was young!)

Or take a recent post at popular blog Shakesville, there’s a post against this article on high heels (which is admittedly, terrible in equating high heels to self-injury, and issues of consent, which redlightpolitics addresses in her storify on white feminists and consent.) This comes on the, pardon the expression, heels of the selfie conflict sparked by Jezebel, which created interesting dialogue about combating male gaze and controlling the photographic narrative.

But the argument that heels are an important feminist decision because they allow women to feel sexy and/or professional, particularly fat women, doesn’t sit right with me either.  Can feminists wear heels? Yeah, for sure.  Is it a way of spitting in the eye of the patriarchy? I don’t know.  I don’t think so.

There shouldn’t be an argument that long-term use of heels, particularly high ones, or heels with narrow toes, do damage to your feet.  There’s no question I’ve seen some seriously hyperbolic rhetoric out there comparing high heels to … idk, burkas and FGM.  That’s bullshit.  Spinning “to wear heels or not to wear heels” as an issue of feminist choice feels bad to me, on a few levels.  One, it feels like we’re gilding the cage.  Heels are necessary, it can be argued, to be seen as professional in the office. Yes. Similar to office dress code rules about cleavage, shaved legs, etc., if you don’t want to be the centre of a shitstorm, you suck it up and follow the code. I don’t feel comfortable spinning that damned if you do, damned if you don’t choice as a feminist act.  We should openly acknowledge it as one of the series of concessions we make in our day to day lives in order to not be in combat 24/7.

I also want to acknowledge that for trans woman, this issue is wrapped up in much more troubling and dangerous narratives about femininity, passing and safety, and I want to be clear that I would never question any woman’s choice about clothing.  Criticizing the practice, and the social history surrounding it is necessary to breaking down the restrictions, though.

There’s been a backlash lately against ironic racism, or ironic sexism, particularly in the comedy world.  If you’re a member of the privileged class, making jokes that sound exactly like racism or sexism, and copping out of it by saying “But I’m not ACTUALLY a racist” is rightly mocked or called out.  Whatever someone’s personal intent is, the audience at large can’t judge it’s truthfulness; only the surface.  Similarly, when a woman wears heels or chooses to stay at home with her kids, there’s no way of knowing at first whether this is a conspicuous choice, or just going with the flow because that’s how life is, or a combination of both.

This does not look like aspic. Some 50s housewife!

This does not look like aspic. Some 50s housewife!

And so on, with sex positivity (sorry, I don’t find vagina-centred feminism very positive, or inclusive, Vagina Monologues)(Eve Ensler’s on everyone’s shit list today!), shaving/waxing/plucking, etc. etc.

Remember the Enlightenment, and me cursing it’s name? (Oh, I haven’t yet? Fuck you, Enlightenment. Eat a butt John Stuart Mill) Here’s where it’s getting me into deep shit. Criticizing the practices has become criticizing the individuals who have made that choice.  Because you’re implying they’re too stupid to not know the societal constraints (They’re not, and I’m not).  Or that you think someone can’t genuinely derive enjoyment from painting their nails or cleaning their house (patently untrue, though I will bemusedly welcome house-cleaning lovers to enjoy my poor cluttered basement if they’re bored).

It’s almost as if the meaning of “the personal is political” has been turned on its head to indicate that personal choices – no matter what they might be – are important political statements.  This is only true if the important political people are recognizing that those personal choices are subversive (and again, in some cases, like abortion, they are!). But when your subversive choices look identical to patriarchal buy-in, then what? The argument then becomes “Well, why aren’t you fighting the patriarchy instead of other feminists?”

The move towards fun sexy feminism has alarmed me in a number of ways. One, we end up with a lot of gross male allies who realize that saying they’re feminist gets them laid. For another, we end up with vitally important concepts like consent being boiled down to “because it gets you laid (and also not charged with rape)”.  Tied into that last link, we also get a bunch of corporate buy-in from Pantene and Dove marketing their beauty care products to women with mildly feminist messages or ideas, which feels alarmingly like point one, only with companies.  Capitalism is anti-thesis to feminism. Shouldn’t we be skeptical?

The problem with skepticism is its lonely.  The moment where you realize you’re a feminist killjoy and you lose all your friends is lonely.  The moment where you realize you’re a feminism killjoy and you don’t even really fit into with a lot of feminist spaces is lonely.  How do we build bridges?  How do people participate in feminism when there are many avenues in which its gone that they don’t agree with, when critiques have become personal jabs rather than a plea to think critically? Is this navel-gazing tome of a blog entry just more of the same? Where do you fit?

September 12, 2013

Villainous Vixens: Rebutting the “mad maidens” principle

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(See WoW Insider’s “Open Letter to Jaina Proudmoore” for backstory. Be warned of 5.4 spoilers!)

If it comes as a surprise to anyone that I love ladies behaving badly in Warcraft (and other storytelling mediums), then I invite you to take a gander at my two Blizzard Story contest entries, where I think about Blood Queen Lana’thel and Leyara’s histories, respectively.

It’s hard being Alliance for all your WoW-playing career and having a fascination with villainy, because they tend to either be a part of the Horde (Sylvanas) or quest/dungeon/raid bosses (Keristrasza, Leyara, BQL, ad nauseum).  The Blizzard Story contest is, at the moment, defunct, but I had been planning exploring a Sylvanas story after reading Dave Kosak’s short story, Edge of Night, because I did find it very interesting that she wasn’t present at Arthas’ death.

A lot of this is born out of my frustration that women in Warcraft tend to be pushed to their limits by the storylines, and then callously abandoned to their fate (often death, at the hands of us “heroes”) when they’re deemed irredeemable. Keristrasza was captured, abused and forced to be Malygos’ consort after she murdered his previous one, and you have to kill her in the Nexus, an act which the wiki entry for her states “a sad, but necessary end.”

so much dragon rape in this game!

so much dragon rape in this game!

Lana’thel is forced into service for the Lich King when she faced him at Northrend, armed with her former friend’s blade Quel’delar, which she was overwhelmed by Frostmourne, and forced to serve him. (Sensing a theme?) Leyara’s grief and anger at the Horde, and her father-in-law’s madness leads her to ally with the minions of Ragnaros because she doesn’t feel she has anything left to live for (and she doesn’t even make it into the dungeons, you kill her during a quest chain.)

This female madness issue didn’t start with Wrath, nor end in Cata.  In Pandaria, where strong emotions are made physically manifest in the Sha, both Suna Silentstrike and Liu Flameheart become infested with Sha, and the players are forced to kill them. It would not be so very telling if not for the fact that Tarah Zhu, leader of the Shado-Pan, is similarly affected, but in the dungeon where you encounter him, all the player needs to do is drive the Sha out of his body, and defeat it.

If that’s the case, why did Suna and Liu have to die? Their grief and doubt – at the loss of a beloved husband, the fear of failing your god – are perfectly reasonable within the context of their stories, which were created by the writers and quest developers. Why do the women of Warcraft only get one chance at redemption, and then only through death?

What’s even more fascinating is that this is a narrative that’s not just played out in the game and supplemental materials, but also in the fan base. Jaina factors into this because like Suna and Leyara, she’s lost loved ones, people she was a leader to. Her story has always been one of courage and of loss.  SPOILERS for 5.4 to follow the cut:

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May 6, 2013

Game of Thrones and Sexualized Violence

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I have been mad at Game of Thrones before. I was mad when they made Daenerys’ wedding night into a graphic rape scene. I was mad at some of the asshole-clenchingly awful sexposition scenes. I was mad about the attempted rape on Sansa during the riot (and the dream-recap the next night). I was livid about the scene where Joffrey abuses two prostitutes.

Last night, I was mad enough to actually stand up and yell a lot. There was huffing. I scared Gary.

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November 17, 2011

Heart’s Blood, White Ribbons (Trigger warnings for rape)

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Whenever I make the statement that while I don’t believe men can be feminists, I do think they have roles to play within feminism, there’s inevitably one or two men (or women!) asking, “Well, like what?”

Guys, here’s your chance.

The White Ribbon campaign is an international awareness movement devoted to stopping violence against women. A lot of their promotional materials are devoted to educating and encouraging men to take up action against men perpetuating violence against women. Before the derailing penny gets laid on the tracks, let’s cover it:

Yes, men get raped too. Their assault is typically perpetuated by other men. Yes, women have committed rape – but they account for less than 2% of all sexual assaults committed, and this includes: statutory rape (teacher/student), abuse of their own children or abuse perpetuated on another woman. So of that already tiny percent, an even smaller percent is female-on-male abuse. Savvy? When I say his/he when talking about rapists, I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass.

Now, I often feel very strongly about violence against women, both for personal reasons and the more lofty goal of, “it’s fucking gross, don’t do that shit”. But whenever it happens within something you consider your community, you get reminded of how very far men have to go in telling each other not to rape.

One of the gold-making bloggers, Alyzande aka Gold Queen has been extremely candid in blogging about her recent experience with violence and rape. (TW for suicide at link.) Because she is a woman on the internet, being honest about her experience, people think this gives them license to be gross dicks about it, judging her or doubting her story.

Protip men: when I said there are things you can do to help feminism, this is a key one. Support survivors of assault. Don’t heap on the victim blaming. If you can’t help yourself from the latter, please kick yourself firmly in the nards.

BUT.

Some WoW bloggers have used this as an opportunity to spread love and support for Alyzande personally, as well as information and education on the international white ribbon campaign. I don’t know who initially made this image, but it’s perfect:

Click the ribbon.  Do one of the things suggested on the site, especially if you’re a guy asking “Okay then, what is my role in feminism?”  This is it. Do this.